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Remembering Grandfather



I was six years old when my grandfather died. The memories of things that happen when you are six, are different from the memories that we form as adults. Memories are only clouded images of the things that we clearly understood...shapes, colors, sounds... and emotions.

I remember standing on a covered porch. A cold winter rain was drizzling down, and a dog was barking. My grandfather was smiling. He was showing me a rifle, and it looked so much bigger than the ones they used on Rawhide and Bonanza. He told me to look down the barrel at that little post sticking up on the end. He said to put that little post right on that oil can in the yard. I remember the rifle was heavy, and he helped me hold it up. He said squeeze the trigger. I remember a loud pop that hurt my ears, and that acrid smell of burnt powder. The oil can didn't move, and I was terribly disappointed.
"That's OK, lets try again" he said.
Looking down the barrel, putting the little post on the can, squeezing ever so slowly...
"Look, it turned over Grandpa."
I remember he smiled.
"That's because you hit it son."
I was proud, and I remember his smile. So was he.
"Now, you see your grandmas underpants hanging on that clothesline over there" he said, "Put that little post right on those."

I remember the tractor shed, out in the backyard beside the big hay barn. I was standing on the sunlit side, parting the tall brown weeds with a stick, searching for any unclaimed treasure that may be hidden there. In the weeds, I could see old weathered wood, flecked with green and brown paint, rusted nails and rotted pieces of rope...a boat!
"I didn't know you had a boat grandpa."
He stepped from the shadows of the shed, squinting in the unfamiliar light.
"It's real old, and don't float no more" he said.
I remember that I was disappointed.
"What's that?" I asked.
Lying across the boat was a piece of pipe. It was black, with patches of rust near the end where the paint was missing. It was bigger around than my arm and longer than my grandpa was tall. He was a very big man to me.
"That's the biggest gun that I ever owned" he answered.
I was so excited that I almost peed in my pants. "Can we shoot it grandpa!" I said, as I hopped around holding my crotch.
"No son, that gun is real old, and besides, you can't hunt with this kind of gun."
I remember thinking to myself, what good is a gun that you can't hunt with. Could it be for holding off large bands of marauding indians, like they do on Rawhide or Gunsmoke.
"What's it for then?" I asked, while carefully scanning the horizon for hordes of red savages that might be bearing down on us.
"Well…it was for killing ducks. Lots of ducks. Back in a time when a man had to feed himself and his family however he could."
"Can we hunt ducks someday grandpa."
"I'd like that" he said, "because I've never hunted ducks."

In the spring of that year, he died. I remember the wake, standing on the same covered porch that now smelled of honeysuckle. My uncles were there, swapping tales about my grandpa.
"Remember how he used to like his coffee?" said one "He would put a stew pot of water on the stove, dump in half a cup of grounds, and let it boil half the day."
They all laughed.
"Remember how he used to eat all those squirrel brains?" said another. "Brains and eggs for breakfast every day of squirrel season. To him, it was a sin to shoot a squirrel in the head'."
Still more laughter.
"What about you David. What will you remember most about your grandpa?"
Back then, there were so many images of him. Watching him train the new pup that grandma got him for his birthday. Seeing him pull on a busted covey of quail with the Model 11. The one he bought the day the banks failed. That time behind the barn when he tried to explain the difference between hunting and killing. The day we shot grandmas underpants.

But there was only one thing that I could remember that day...the one thing that I still remember today.

"I remember he said he would take me duck hunting."